Preserving the Lagniappe Culture: Food Memories

Earlier this week, a co-worker asked me, “Which culture, if any, would you identify yourself with?”

I paused, pretty sure I understood his question but not entirely. “Exactly what do you mean?”

“Well, sometimes people identify themselves with a culture, and I was just wondering if you did, too. You may not.” While this did not exactly bring added clarity, I still felt I understood him much better.

“It would be the Southern culture. Yes, if there is any one culture, it’d be Southern.”

*                            *                            *

Is it true that if you live away from a very cultural place for a long time that you could lose that culture entirely? If you were rooted in the culture to start, that seems a pretty impossible task. How long would it take–or does it take–to lose a culture? What if you don’t want to lose the culture? Are you battling uphill without a weapon?

Losing a culture with which you closely identify is a very dreadful idea indeed. Not to have identified with one in the first place is scary, too, but cannot be helped except to move forward, to embrace an entirely new culture.

I cannot help but to believe that moving away from the mores of a particular region will result in some loss. That’s natural. However, I also believe that all does not have to dissipate into the nether regions of legacy maintenance. Cultural preservation, I suppose it is called.

Here is my contribution.

*                        *                         *

Pass the Sauce

                  King Cake Mayonnaise Saltines Raw Oysters w/Horseradish, Ketchup & Lemon Crawfish fat, bursting Strawberries I wanna Snowball with Condensed Milk on Top, Bubble Gum flavored like I always get. My Daddy loves to cook me redbeansandricewithsausageandasideofcornbread. He also cooks me tomato gravy and gives me a slice of white bread to soak it up. When it’s New Year’s, Mama cooks up the black eyed peas, cornbread and cabbage. It’s gonna bring me good luck. We all eat gumbo when it’s cold outside and when it’s not. It ain’t right if you don’t put the rice on top of the gumbo. Rice swims in gumbo. Everyone knows that. I mainly like fried oyster po-boys, but I’ll take the shrimp if that’s all you have.

*                    *                    *

                Fried oyster po-boy, dressed. I’ll need some hot sauce, please.  Crystal’s only, though, because it’s not too, too hot like that Tabasco. . . . I cannot take that kind of hot. People say, “You from here, right? You got to like spice!” Well, a little spice might make things nice, but I’m not trying to go up to Charity, right? . . . Hey! Are the oysters seasoned with Zatarain’s or Tony Cachere’s? . . . Why you lookin’ at me like that? I know it’s a crazy question! Sorry I asked . . . Look, I’m fixin’ to get on down the road and take my meal home with me. See ya’ll later.

*                    *                    *

                Come on, Mee-chelle, we going to Mike Anderson’s. Im’a get us some oysters. I just want to see if you’ll eat them. I know I will, and your momma won’t eat with me . . . Yeah, they’re gonna be raw. Of course they’re gonna be raw. You know your Daddy. The only way I like them is raw with a little horseradish and ketchup mixed together. On the half shell . . . Oooooowee! I love me some raw oysters . . . See her eating those? I’m tickled pink that I can get my daughter to eat them with me. Her momma don’t care for them as much. Shoot, I’ve tried to get her to come with me, but she won’t, so I thought I’d bring Mee-chelle. Shoot, Mee-chelle can eat oysters all day. Put each one on a little cracker after you dip it in the sauce. Watch her, she likes it . . . Yeah, she’s smiling. Raw oysters are good.  Sure do wish her momma would come with us, though.

*                    *                    *

                I’m the secretary, so I’m in charge of this year’s crawfish boil, and you’re going with me. I’ve already ordered the crawfish and the corn and the potatoes at $2 a pound. Now I’ve got to find a place to have this shindig. Remember when you went last year there was not a lot to do? This year we are going to have it out at the park, so you ought to find yourself a friend to bring with you. Ya’ll could go to the lake. You could bring a fishing pole or something. Maybe that’d be fun. I’m going to be in charge of clean-up and all that other stuff. You helped me with that last year, which was a big help. You’re a good daughter, Michelle.

*                    *                    *

                 Alright, if I just scrounge up some change, I can go down to get me a snowball. I’ve got $1 here, but 25 cents more and I can get that condensed milk on top. I wish’d it hadn’t taken me so long to figure out I like that stuff. Daddy says it’s nothing but pure- dee fat. He don’t care, so I don’t care. I’m gonna go to that place that says “SNOWballs” spray painted in big, black letters on the front. I like their crushed ice the best. They put just the right amount of juice, too. I hate when the juice drowns out the bottom of the Styrofoam cup.

     *                        *                        *

                 Pralines on wax paper in the kitchen. They might stick to the paper a little bit, honey, but ain’t nothing you cain’t take a knife to. You being my oldest grandchild, you can manage to get it yourself. If you spill, be sure to pass the vacuum under that table.

*                    *                    *

                  Oooooowee, Mee-chelle! I know whereyou could get you some big ol’ strawberries—down at an intersection in Bogalusa. This man was there the other day sellin’em, and we bought us a flat. Ten dollars a flat, I think it was . . . The man sellin’em is your cousin. I bet you didn’t know that . . . I’ll give you ten dollars right now if you go down and get some . . . I know it’s 20 minutes away, but they sure are big and juicy. Ooooowee! Them suckers’ll melt in your mouth . . . Come on, I’ll go down there with you. I’ll drive you and buy you a flat . . . Well, I know you’re one person, but there’re a lot of things you could do with some big ol’ strawberries like the ones I seen . . . Come on, we’re going. Now I gotta have me some strawberries.

*                     *                   *

Honey, I done made Mississippi Mud Pie so many times that I cain’t even taste it. I just make it up and serve it to whoever walks in the door. Look over yonder for a pie knife in that drawer. Cut you a real big piece.

Ah, damn, it’s dinner time AGAIN? Every day with this dinner business. (Sorry, no recipe, just sarcasm.)

This is how my days go:

1. Fancy up a tres cute outfit and rock massively high heels just in time to show up to work with a wide grin on my face and to greet the morning and my coworkers with a big, “How d’ya do?” This is at 7:15, and I’ve already taken the dog for a spin around the ‘hood and presented warm mugs of cocoa to the kids waiting out at the bus stop. Brrrrr. What a chilly morn’.

2. Happily greet my morning set of students before I then present to them the most cogent and entertaining lesson on the history of Levittown–as it relates to A Raisin in the Sun, of course–that they have EVER seen. Do you know how many teens have never even heard of Levittown until meeting me? My. Word.

3. Attend two very important meetings and grade about 50-60 essays during my hour-and-a-half planning period a bit later in the day. As you can imagine, I stop for a brief bathroom break (Gotta bring those papers in with me, though! Breaks are for sissies.)

And so it goes. Ahhhh, and so it goes . . .

And finally we’ve arrived at 6 p.m.ish. Dinner time . . .

16. Watch as my family pulls up in the driveway and then suddenly rush to the refrigerator to check out the bits and scraps I might throw together to cook YET. ANOTHER. MEAL. (and I actually like to cook).

17. Start discovering all the stuff I bought last week and have still failed to use.

**I bought those chives for this stir-fry I’d planned to make . . . until I realized that three days after the chive shopping trip, we’d be eating out for Baby O’s birthday at a Japanese steakhouse. Home stir-fry AND steakhouse in one week? Absurdity, I guess. Status: Chives still pending.

**Oh, here are these frozen burritos I bought last month. I didn’t even bring lunch today because I thought I had nothing. In all of my morning fabulosity, I guess I neglected to even look to see that we had these burritos and two other frozen meals.

**I have to use the ground turkey at this point. That’s what I choose to do. Result: floppy turkey patties on ashy-looking buns (that have been in the freezer God knows how long). Don’t forget the tomato whose top is all mushy now. Now, to make it all healthy, I’ll add sweet potato fries. I’m an awesome dinner-maker all around tonight, boy. Whew!

What a day. Now that my belly is full, I am off to wow some more students with some essay revision comments.

Till tomorrow,

YMByrd!

Outtakes:

The start of this photo shoot

Working hard on those papers, but my spoon (for effect) WON'T stay!

Eating my imaginary pancakes

Diva moment: The spoon fell AGAIN! My ears must be too petite.

Baking the American Dream . . . Without Another Trip to the Grocery Plus! Oatmeal Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

Michelle Byrd’s Weekly Meal Calendar:

Sunday:           Do the BIG grocery shopping trip. Be all content that I have used my time wisely and that our cabinets are now set for the week.

Monday:          Realize on the way home that one little chili pepper would be great to add to tonight’s tortilla soup. (Geez, Michelle, why didn’t you think of that yesterday, you crazy girl?) Swing into the nearest Giant to pick up the tiniest of chili peppers . . . and a pack of gum wrapped in packaging that resembles a maze.

Tuesday:          Oh, crap, who forgot the buns for tonight’s burgers? Gotta have those because Matt always offers notable groans when I mention that we can use regular bread.

Wednesday:    Hell no, I’m NOT going to the grocery today. We eat our spaghetti without meatballs because in my rush on Sunday, I just forgot to grab them altogether. Also, I just left a girl who cried over the B she’d received on her essay and a boy who told me that school was useless and that if he needed to know anything, he could just turn on his TV. He called Hemingway stupid, too. Do you know that were Hemingway alive today, he just might make you his next hunting target for that?

Thursday:        Okay, so I know I was all irritated yesterday, but I’m craving some of that baby yogurt, and I’ve ripped through all four containers this week. I’ll just quietly stop into Giant.

Friday:             Yes, I spent $32 when I went in yesterday to get YoBaby!. Why do you ask?

Saturday:         Are you serious that tomorrow is Sunday already? I usually make my shopping list on Saturday. Better get busy this week because I will not forget anything. I know I said that last Saturday. Stop bringing it up.

Photo courtesy of Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot

And so it goes . . .

A conversation I had last year at lunch spurred me to jot down a week-long example of the bittersweet relationship I have with my local Giant. During that lunch, a few of us fine ladies were shoveling food down our gullets in the 27.5 minutes we are allotted to do so. After getting settled, microwaving, chewing and swallowing, we were left with about 11.2 minutes to discuss something. That day, we talked of cookies–eating them, loving them, making and baking them. Usual cookie talk. Most of what we said is extremely general, except for one response. To someone else’s comment, I replied, “Yeah, you know you’ve arrived when you have all of the stuff to make cookies from scratch right in your cabinet.” I’m not 100% confident that the stares I received meant my statement was odd, but that’s how I interpreted them.

Forget the money, the fame, the pride or the freedom. Basic kitchen staples: Keys to The American Dream. When I made my comment, I meant that having these all ready in the kitchen meant I could, on a whim, hearken back to that mythical “simpler time” when people made things from scratch more often, really liked each other, and lit warm fires and cozy candles. (Men were baking from scratch, no one told anyone to “Shut up,” and everyone’s eyes stayed intact even while reading with crumby candlelight, too, which solidifies the mythical nature of my “simpler time.”) Most importantly, having staples in my cabinet meant that the grocery store might as well be a small entity located miles away, just like years ago. Back then, my YoBaby! cravings would just have to wait (for another 50 years or so).

At lunch that day, my version of The American Dream hung out in the nether regions of my cabinets. Today, it still does. I have a hard time even writing that with a straight face because freedom and pride are pretty friggin’ key to The American Dream, for crying out loud. But, hey, the chocolate chip cookie is an American icon and can easily carry the symbolism of The American Dream on its chewy top. So, when you bite into one, raise your cookie high to the sky and revere its symbolic weight. Know that you are doing something right. Finally, if you get a chance, send a box of cookies to a soldier, to a volunteer or to someone you know doing something to maintain some American ideals. With this piece, I have just inspired myself to do the same.

Oatmeal Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookies

Adapted from a random internet source that I can no longer find, but I know, via notes, that I’ve made about four changes from the original recipe

*I’ve reduced some of the sugary contents for this recipe because I don’t want to feel sick after eating a cookie. I’ve more to eat after just one, you know. Anyhow, my favorite parts of this cookie are its level of sweetness, its soft and chewy texture, and its subtle aftertaste. If you like your cookies on the sweeter side, increase the sugar to 1/2 cup and the syrup to 2 Tablespoons.

Difficulty:  Easy              Prep time:   15-20 minutes of prep + 12 mins per batch of baking       Makes: 30-36 medium-size cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon backing soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

    My poor, little, one-legged hand mixer

  • 8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 Tablespoon syrup, maple or regular
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut (optional)

LET’S DO THIS!!!

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In medium bowl, blend flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, oats, and walnuts with fork.

3. In large bowl, beat butter, brown sugar and (regular) sugar together with a hand mixer for 30 seconds or until well blended. Hand mixer should be on medium speed.

4. Beat in egg until smooth.

5. Add syrup and vanilla. Mix on medium high for approximately 20 seconds.

6. Switch mixer to lowest speed and begin mixing in dry ingredients in medium bowl (step #2) 1/2 cup at a time. Continue mixing dry ingredients into wet until you are out of dry ingredients. Continue to mix until well blended.

7. Add chocolate chips and coconut. Mix until well blended.

8. Scoop each “cookie-to-be” on an average-sized spoon. Round slightly and place on pre-greased cookie sheet.

9. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 12 minutes. (I turn the pan at seven minutes.) Ovens will vary. Keep an eye on your cookies. **Your cookies may look slightly underdone, but I like to take them out at this point and have them cook themselves for the remainder. I find that it keeps them chewier longer.

Happy cooking! Happy eating!

Everything has gone pear-shaped! (But not really) Food Adventure Challenge 2011: Installment Two

by Michelle Byrd–A special thanks goes directly to M. Cameron and indirectly to T. Cameron for alerting me to the beauty of an Asian pear.

To go straight to the pear results and a short pear salad recipe, simply scroll to the picture of the three pears.

We’ll get to what I thought about this week’s challenge items–Asian, Bosc and Red Bartlett pears–but first, for those who appreciate historical records of human communication, I have provided for you a small, pear-related excerpt from “The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste” by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams.

Now, my intent is not to make light of the geekiness that is the recording and debating over pears, because I love reading these sorts of exchanges. However, sometimes I lie to myself about my intent.

In the excerpt below, the editors of “The Horticulturist . . .” doubt some pear measurements they’ve received anonymously. The main man they can consult to confirm these measurements is one Mr. William Reid, a lifelong, dedicated horticulturist. I know little to nothing of Mr. Reid except that he was committed to his profession and was published in and consulted for “The Horticulturist . . .”, a 19th-century journal, a number of times.

Duchess D’Angouleme And Sheldon Pears

The annexed is the outline of a Duchess d’Angouleme Pear (Fig. 1) that grew last season in the garden of Thomas R. Thompson, in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, on a standard tree taken from the nursery of Mr. William Reid. It was forwarded to us anonymously, and we consequently felt some doubt about the enormous proportions; but, on application to Mr. Reid, the well-known nurseryman there, we received the following note:

Duchess D'angouleme.

Duchess D’angouleme. http://chestofbooks.com/

Duchess D’Angouleme And Sheldon Pears

Elizabethtown, N. J., Nov. 28,1855. J. Jay Smith, Esq

Dear Sir: The specimen of Duchess d’Angouleme Pear which you refer to, the outlines sent you by Chas. Davis, Junr., of this place, grown by Thos. R. Thompson, of Elizabethtown, is correctly described. The measurement was 15 inches longitudinal circumference, by 13 1/2 inches, as represented. This Pear was brought to my place by the grower, to look at before being eaten. I had heard of this Pear before I saw this specimen, but having so many fine specimens, I took no notice of it until I saw it; I at once thought the size exceeded anything I had ever seen, even putting me, as you observe, in mind of a monstrous specimen I saw at some exhibition, made out of wax. It was very solid and heavy, and, to all appearance, Juicy and perfectly melting; the weight is correct, having been weighed by several scales in town, viz: 1 lb. 12 ozs.

Yours, etc, Wm. Reid [1].

As a follow-up, please imagine picturing Mr. Reid upon his receipt of the letter that you have just read. This addition is completely fictitious and is what I couldn’t dismiss from my mind while reading the above excerpt regarding pears? or pride?

Mr. Reid, dressed in trousers and a sensible sweater, picks up his correspondence from the post office. One gardening glove hangs from his trouser belt loop, just in case. Once home and after drinking several sips of tea, methodically, he begins to sort his mail. Everything has a place. Correspondence from his Aunt Nell goes in one pile. She is doing splendidly and hopes to visit him soon. The journals that publish his work enter another pile. They will be placed alphabetically along his solid, wooden bookshelf. The last thing in the evening’s pile? The Accusation. It arrives in a fairly nondescript envelope but for the return address in the upper left-hand corner. It’s official, to be sure. It’s a letter from “The Horticulturist . . .” that doubts an anonymous mailer’s findings. In Mr. Reid’s zeal in any situation to “set the record straight,” he instantly whips out his pen of fine craftsmanship he uses for just these occasions and then hastily but steadily pushes his pen to paper, drawing his nifty diagram and discussing his findings. For every mention of pear, he capitalizes P. For every mention of the pear in question, he responds with the excitement of someone who has seen Frankenstein.

Oh, how agitated Mr. Reid must’ve been when he’d received the editor’s correspondence that doubted the size of the pear in question. Had Mr. Reid been so inclined to add one more little line, his mood may have established a different course of one phrase as we know it. Instead of the exhausted “How you like dem apples?” we’d use instead, “How you like dem pears?”*

Game on, The Horticulturist!!! (and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste)

*I am aware that the supposed origins of “How you like dem apples?” came way later, if I am to believe Wikipedia. I am disregarding all research where this is concerned so I can make my story end remotely cleverly. How you like dem . . . Oh, nevermind.

Photo courtesy of M. Byrd

On to the verdicts:

Asian pear: I loved this one! It’s like eating an apple but better because when sliced, the pieces are less bulky and mildly sweeter. Some bites had a small buttery aftertaste. This pear even looks like it’d belong in the apple family and is often referenced as an “apple pear” [3]. Hell, you should slice these up and throw them into your next salad or just eat them raw. Yum! See a simple pear salad recipe below. (I hated the skin, but I hate all the pear skins I’ve ever tasted.)

Red Bartlett: I had two of these, an overripe one and another just beginning to ripen. Baby O loved the overripe one–great for her to “toddlerhandle.” Take a look at the picture above if you need evidence. I found the Red Bartlett to be sweeter and softer than the Asian. Of course sweetness, etc. will depend on when you buy the item. Since I prefer crispy, this one came in second. I’d recommend this one for salads, too, to offset the pear’s sweetness a bit. See a simple pear salad recipe below.

BOSC: When I first tasted the BOSC on Wednesday, I found it to be bland and lifeless. I shoved it into a plastic bag and then tossed it into the fridge, thinking I’d try it again in a couple of days. I didn’t have much hope for it. On Friday, I pulled it out and sliced it. Crisper. Sweeter. Better. Still not my favorite.

What should you look for when shopping for one? In general, if you are ready to eat a pear, look for one that has a slight give and then eat within a day or two. The longer you wait, the softer it’ll get. Look for pears with no scarring or bruising. HOWEVER, for the Asian pear, you should buy it when it is firm. Look for a sweet, strong smell (when pear is cold, this factor fades). If you’d like to ripen further, put your pears in a “cool, dark place” [3]. The Asian, unlike many other pears, is intended to be a crispy pear, so don’t wait around for it to soften unless you enjoy rotted pear.

Now, get out there and try something, anything new, Folks! This challenge is rolling and needs you. You know you’ll be at the grocery or a new restaurant anyway this weekend. Come back and share with us 🙂 Happy cooking! Happy eating!

Simple Pear Salad

I love crunch in my salad. If you do, too, here’s a really easy way to use the Asian pear aside from eating it straight up.

Time:   5 minutes      Difficulty:   Super easy    Serves:  2 peopls

Ingredients:

  • Approx. 1.5 cups arugula
  • balsamic vinaigrette, enough to provide a good drizzle and light coating on your arugula (I really like Archer Farms’ Aged Balsamic Vinaigrette (which is one of Target’s brands))
  • 1 Asian pear
  • 1/3 cup to 1/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
  • 6-8 black olives , sliced (can buy canned, but I like getting the ones at the olive bar (if the bar looks well-kept))
  • black pepper

LET’S DO THIS!!

1. In a small bowl, lightly drizzle the vinaigrette over your lettuce. Toss until just coated and place on individual plates.

2. Slice your asian pear into very thin wedges. Test out a slice to make sure you have just enough taste but do not have a slice so large that it is clunky in the salad. Apply as many slices to a salad as you’d like.

3. Add cheese crumbles.

4. Slice your olives thinly and add as many as you’d like. *I love olives, but adding too many can overwhelm your pears, so caution.

5. Sprinkle black pepper, to taste.

6. If you’d like to, drizzle more dressing. Taste beforehand, though. To get the true taste of each bite, you do not want your dressing too heavy-handed.

Next week’s new: Ben and Jerry’s Schweddy Balls. It’s a limited supply right now, you know! Hang on, co-workers, you’ll be getting some of this malted milk ball delectable this coming week!

cites

1. “Duchess d’Angouleme and Sheldon Pears.” Stasophere. 17 Sep 2011. 22 Oct 2010. <http://chestofbooks.com/gardening-horticulture/Journal-7/Duchess-D-Angouleme-And-Sheldon-Pears.html>.

2. “Fruit & Vegetable of the Month.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 17 Sep 2011. 2011. <http://www.fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov/month/asian_pear.html&gt;.

3. “Red Bartlett Pear.” Produce Oasis. 17 Oct 2011. 2011. <http://www.produceoasis.com/Items_folder/Fruits/RedBartlett.html&gt;.

Only Saints Host Slumber Parties . . . Plus! Pizza Pinwheels with Dipping Sauce Recipe

Photo courtesy of Dynamite Imagery, freedigitalphotos.net

Dear Mom,

This is my plea to you to forgive all of us, every single one of us, who ever came into your home once per year and demanded that you give us over 14 solid hours of fun.

Oh, come on, you know what I’m referencing. They have to be the reason anxiety pills were invented. I’m talking about those good ol’ slumber parties you hosted, year after year after year.

At the height of those slumber party years, I do believe you hosted approximately eight of us, give or take a girl who didn’t spend the night because of having her tonsils removed . . . and who proceeded to scream at the top of her lungs when she couldn’t go skating with us. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. Seven is a large number of cats to have, much less little girls who gab and gab about cute boys and unfair teachers.

Each year, I requested my constants—pizza and ice cream for dinner and pancakes in the morning. Each year, you delivered.

I ask, though, how could you do what you did? I’ve wondered:

a)      how you managed to stretch a dollar to put my favorite foods on the table for all of us girls—don’t remember you ever slapping down a credit card for any of our purchases

b)      how you tolerated a bunch of 13-year-old girls who stayed up half the night to literally scream about who had the better set of friends (sorry for waking you up; had the Michelle-Ignorantly-Throws-A-Pillow-At-Your-Sleeping-Face Wake-Up Incident of 1991 happened prior, I’d’ve known better.)

c)       how you had the patience to keep going even after the party. Having pictures developed in those days required at least two trips to the store in hopes that one grainy picture might preserve the event.

I don’t know if you were having fun, too, at those parties. After sitting through the commotion of each year, agreeing to host them must’ve held something. Oddly, I’ve pondered your rationale approximately once per year since those days. Allowing us to fill balloons with shaving cream just so we could smash them with our butts made for an awesome clean-up task. You surely knew we’d half-ass help. Serving us each a mound of pancakes made for a grueling morning of grunt work. The thing about pancakes, too, is that your plate was ready when everyone else had long left the table to pore over Tiger Beat pics.

How you tolerated us is still elusive, but why you did so is becoming clearer with each equinox. Even if we didn’t mesh the whole time, my friends and I meshed most of the time. We turned cartwheels, told jokes, played games, and shared spoons of ice cream and cups of Coke. We skated and sang and danced. We made memories.

I still vividly recall me and five of my friends chomping on pizza one birthday, crammed around the worn kitchen table. One friend, Heather, had brown hair and two fingers that were connected at birth. At school, her self-consciousness constantly prompted her to cover her hands under the backs of her thighs. At the party, however, I remember her joking and laughing about typical girl things–no relation to her fingers—and joining in on activities full force. To us, she was Heather, classmate and pal, not “Heather with the two fingers stuck together.” I hope I’m remembering correctly when I say this. Kids can be nosey as hell and often say things that are inadvertently cruel. She likely does not remember that party, but I hope to hell she had a good time. That’s what slumber parties are supposed to be about—so much fun that the things that make us self-conscious elsewhere are irrelevant. That’s what friends are supposed to be about*.

I can still viscerally feel the pang that always came in those final moments before the last parent came. I knew my friend was about to leave; I was just not sure when. Then there were more pangs when her mom arrived, when she tossed her sleeping bag into the car’s trunk and when both of them hugged us, said “Thanks,” and drove away.

While I technically can figure out how you physically did it, I still don’t know how you mentally did it. Now that I have a daughter of my own, though, I know exactly why you did it. When Baby O wants that slumber party, she’ll likely get it. I’ll stress out about whether my floor is dirt-free and over plan activities just enough to start a revolt. Or, I’ll do my best to model you. I’ll buy what I can with what I have and just let the girls work things out on their own, with occasional interventions. Like you, I will value a semi-restful night of sleep. My bubbly-ness while cooking the damn pancakes will be directly proportional to the number of hours of sleep I can get, girls.

I just have one caveat** for Baby O, a baby born in the 21st century and one who will be soaked with celebrity influence even on Sesame Street: no couture slumber parties. You didn’t host couture parties for me, and all of my memories, kerfuffles and all, are just perfect.

Your daughter,
Michelle

*Yes, I ended in a preposition.

**Other caveats, like good grades and limited sass, are implied.

Pizza Pinwheels

I’ve attached this recipe because it’s perfect to make for a party or just a fun thing to make with the kids at home. The 12 pinwheels it makes are plenty to feed 4-6 people, depending on how big your eaters are. Pair it with a nice, green salad and a beer for those 21+ and milk for those 20-, and you have a nice, little dinner that is fun to eat.

Makes 12 Pinwheels

Difficulty:           Easy to moderate

Prep time:           approx 40 minutes (15 minutes of pinwheels “resting” included)

Baking time:      30 minutes

*This is a recipe that requires your dough to be at room temperature and that includes other “resting” and baking times. Please read the directions to help you manage your time wisely.

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup to ½ cup of flour, for flouring surface
  • One pound of prepared pizza dough, wheat or white
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon dried basil or small bunch of finely chopped fresh basil
  • Dash of salt and pepper
  • 2 cloves of finely chopped garlic or 2 teaspoons of minced garlic
  • 2.5 cups of shredded cheese (can be three-cheese blend, mozzarella, cheddar or blend of the latter two)
  • 1 package sliced pepperoni
  • 1 can pizza sauce or any spaghetti sauce

LET’S DO THIS!!

Photo courtesy of M. Byrd - Buy the prepared dough

1. Allow your prepared dough to sit until it reaches room temperature. *Even if it nears room temperature after 30 minutes, you can use it. It will likely have slightly less malleability, however. I’ve done it and don’t have any complaints.

2. Cover a cookie sheet in aluminum foil and grease the foil.

3. Cover a large, flat surface in a light coating of flour. Make sure you have enough room to roll out your dough into a square/rectangular shape.

Photo courtesy of M. Byrd - Flour the surface.Photo courtesy of M. Byrd - Rolling out the doughPhoto courtesy of M. Byrd - Rolling out the dough

4. Cover your ball of dough in a light coat of flour. Using a rolling pin (or a tall glass if you’re desperate), roll out your dough until you acheive a square or rectangular shape. Roll your dough out until it is fairly thin because it will be easier to roll into a log.

Photo courtesy of M. Byrd - Rolling out the dough

5. In a small bowl, combine your olive oil, oregano, basil, salt and pepper. Stir.

6. Brush your olive oil mixture all over your dough.

7. Sprinkle your garlic all over your dough.

8. Cover dough from side to side in cheese and layer on as many pepperonis as you see fit. **Don’t be afraid to be liberal with your pepperonis, but getting absolutely crazy may make your rolling a big pain later.

Photo courtesy of M. Byrd - Cover in cheese and pepperoni from side to side

9. Starting at a shorter end (assuming rectangular) or any (assuming square), tightly roll your dough towards the opposite end. ***Mine is always fairly tight but not insanely tight. You don’t want to break the dough. You do need to be firm here because if you roll too loosely, your slices will fall apart.

Photo courtesy of M. Byrd - The dough, rolled

10. Once you have rolled your dough into the shape of a log, begin cutting the dough at an angle. IMPORTANT: Use a serrated knife. Cut at an angle right in the middle. Then, proceed to cut each half in half and so on, until you have cut 12 slices.

11. Place your pinwheels on your greased cookie sheet.

12. You will now let your pinwheels sit for approximately 20 minutes. While they are “resting,” preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Photo courtesy of M. Byrd - Resting Pinwheels

13. Rest for a second. You deserve it.

14. After 20 minutes of having the pinwheels “rest,” place them in the oven for 20 minutes of cooking.

15. Prepare your egg wash by mixing eggs and water. **This egg wash will help your final pinwheels to come out nice and shiny. If you are out eggs, this is not a necessary step, but it definitely will make your pinwheels look more appealing.

16. After 20 minutes, remove your pinwheels and brush each one with egg wash.

17. Return to over for approximately 10 more minutes. ***Since ovens vary, keep an eye on your pinwheels.

18. At the end of 10 minutes, your pinwheels should be done. Serve them up and enjoy.

19. For dipping sauce, I use the brand and flavor of spaghetti sauce that I prefer. Happy cooking! Happy eating!

Photo courtesy of M. Byrd - serve with dipping sauce and an ice cold beer (or milk)

Voila! Happy cooking! Happy eating!

Idiots Eating Cinnamon: The New Beer Bong? plus! Cinnamon Mangonana Smoothie Recipe

“Cinnamon challenge” appears to be a popular thing among the late teens/early 20’s set, but I’d never heard of it. While researching it, I learned a couple of other things about cinnamon along the way. Here are the results of my search.

To go directly to the recipe, simply scroll down.

Photo by Michelle Byrd

Idiots Eating Cinnamon: The New Beer Bong?                                  by Michelle Byrd

I confess: I just finished viewing eighteen minutes of various “cinnamon challenge” clips on YouTube.

“Cinnamon challenge” videos are basically this: Predominantly young individuals, it appears, are filmed as they attempt to ingest either one precise tablespoon of or one heaping spoonful of ground cinnamon. If you don’t know exactly what effect this will have on a person (which I did not), it has an unfavorable one. Most of the “stars” of the videos end up performing histrionics, spitting or spewing forth the cinnamon, yelling “Oh my gawd!” and doing a pseudo-interpretive dance. The cameraman usually doubles as the narrator, and there are often multiple spectator(s) involved.

In one particular video titled “Wife beats cinnamon challenge,” the narrator is the star’s husband and spends the entire time berating her for her ability to succeed with the challenge. Many other narrators are nicer, but all videos are equitably asinine. The titles alone can help you determine this: “The Cinnamon Challenge (WARNING PUKE)” or “Hot Girl Cinnamon Challenge Freakout.” I am pleasantly surprised to see cinnamon spelled correctly every time, simply because it’s a tricky one.

Ingesting tablespoons of cinnamon is a dumb idea. While cinnamon is magically enticing when sprinkled onto or mixed into something in just the right dose, it is rather atrocious-tasting when taken alone. Granted, I haven’t been dumb enough to try a large amount. I tasted a small amount by itself, and that was enough to give me a heads-up. It’s also a dumb idea because cassia cinnamon, the kind predominantly sold in the United States (and not “true” cinnamon), contains coumarin, a moderately toxic substance that can do some damage to your liver and kidneys3. Honestly, though, unless you are going to be ingesting tablespoonfuls of cinnamon on a daily basis, a little cinnamon is a wonderful spice to dash into pies, shakes, cookies, coffee and more.

Studying the intricacies of cinnamon and its related antics is not how I started out on YouTube. Originally, I was looking for clips of Bobby Flay’s appearance on HBO’s Entourage. Flay fetish? Methinks not. I needed to see him in various settings to determine whether I am really an anti-Flayite or not. When I failed at finding actual episode footage, I began looking for the benefits of cinnamon. It’s the next logical step.

Result after hours of research on the (entire) web? Well, I obviously learned about the cassia toxicity issue. Probably the most scientifically-based thing I learned was that there have been a couple of notable studies done with diabetics. These studies showed that cinnamon can have potentially positive, though minimal, effects on blood sugar. The researchers’ conclusion: “the effects of cinnamon differ by population” and ultimately more studies should be done2. There’s really little extensive study done with cinnamon’s effects at all. That’s why I found it more interesting that so many sources touted the benefits of the spice with absolutely no sound research to support their claims—“suppresses appetite,” “lowers cholesterol” or “balances blood sugar.” Just type “benefits of cinnamon” into a search engine, and you can find these claims everywhere. I also saw statistics like “90% of all the cinnamon brought into the U.S. is cassia”1 without any citations, which was appalling. The Internet can really sell so much of anything and nothing to the public. But I digress.

Finally, I learned that the “cinnamon challenge” has become the new beer bong. Oh, come on, there are a few similarities:

1.      Like beer bong, the activity begs for the young and naive. Newcomers evoke that “laugh-my-ass-off” (lmao, in web world) reaction necessary to make this “f-ing hilarious.”

2.      As with anything involving funnels or silverware and a crowd, spectators stand around making more-than-useless comments to warm the cold air. What’s worse now than 20 years ago is that everyone is filming comments like “It’s like that cinnamon shot right out you’re a**!”

3.      When risk-taking co-eds decide to partake, our precious resources vanish, People!

Let’s not fool ourselves. Beer bong is not dead. Some of these folks know their way around a beer bong, too. Much like excessive beer drinkers, people who’ve thrown back a little cinny-cinny report fun facts such as vomiting6 and noticing that the “sense of taste in the front of [the] mouth ha[s] disappeared”4. Maybe one difference is that no one has to do the walk of shame the next morning. Oh, wait. Maybe there is some post-challenge coverage.

Upon further review, I took note that some of the videos dated as far back as 2007, an eon in web land. Maybe this phenomenon is antiquated. What’s up next? Paprika? For goodness sakes, people, I can only tolerate intense research on one spice per year! Can someone please keep me hip before I write these things?

Cinnamon Mangonana Smoothie – recipe courtesy of Michelle Byrd  

 prep time: 5-10 minutes                serves approx three 8 oz. glasses     *medium thickness 

 1 C. whole milk

 1/4-1/2  C. orange juice, no pulp, adjusted for your desired sweetness

 3-4 dashes of cinnamon

 1 C. chopped, frozen mango (don’t need quite as much if using fresh mango). ***You can buy pre-cut, pre-frozen fruit at the grocery.               

 1 whole, frozen banana***When it looks like my bananas are starting to overripen, but I know I won’t/can’t eat them, I peel them, wrap them in foil, and freeze for this occasion. I usually keep 2-3 bananas in my freezer at a time.

LET’S DO THIS!!

1. Into a blender, pour your whole milk and 1/4 cup orange juice.

2. Add 3-4 dashes of cinnamon. ***Be careful here. You can always add more but cannot reduce.

 3. Put in ½ cup of mango. Pulse/blend as needed.

4. Once thoroughly blended, add the rest of the mango. Pulse/blend as needed.

5. Once all mango blended, cut your banana into quarters and add to blender two at a time. Pulse/mix until thoroughly blended.

6. When finished, pour into glass, put 1-2 final dashes of cinnamon on top, insert straw, enjoy!!

Variations:

*Use skim milk instead of whole to save a few calories. However, prepare for a less creamy smoothie.

*I make concerted efforts to avoid adding pure sugar, which is why I add the juice. Plus, milk has some natural sugars in it, as do the fruits. If you like your stuff sweeter than I, plan to add a little sugar. Do every item to taste.

Note: All facts about cinnamon information on here are for informational purposes only. Please consult your doctor if you have any further questions about the effects of ingesting too much cinnamon.

1Bitar, Byron and Anne Wilder. “Cinnamon.” A Cook’s Wares. 2010. Web. 15 Aug 2011. <http://www.cookswares.com/discussions/cinnamon.asp>.

2Blevins, Steve M. and Leyva, Misti J., et al. “Effect of Cinnamon on Glucose and Lipid Levels in Non-Insulin-Dependent Type 2 Diabetes.” American Diabetes Association. 2011. Web. 15 Aug 2011. <http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/30/9/2236.full&gt;.

3Clemenger, Kristine. “The Healthy Cinnamon—Ceylon or Cassia?” Ezine Articles.com. 2011.Web. 15 Aug 2011. <http://ezinearticles.com/?The-Healthy-Cinnamon—Ceylon-or-Cassia?&id=5312787&gt;.

4“Cinnamon Challenge made me lose my sense of taste? What happened? How do I fix it?” (posted by Tyler T.) Yahoo! Answers. 2011. Web. 15 Aug 2011.  http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100912192206AAAai2f.

5 “‘Vanilla Extract’ Produced in Mexico is No Bargain.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 18 Aug 2011. Web. 15 Aug 2011.

6″Who here has done the cinnamon challenge???” FunAdvice.com. 2011. Web. 15 Aug 2011. <http://www.funadvice.com/q/cinnamon_challenge&gt;.

Here, here, little orange pariah . . . Recipe: Carrot Salad with Almonds and Golden Raisins

INSIDE RECIPE: Carrot Salad with Golden Raisins and Almonds

Note: A short writing piece about carrots precedes this recipe. If you want to go directly to the recipe, simply scroll down.

Courtesy of Fotosearch.com.

Carrots.

When I write that word, what do you think? Does your mouth start salivating? Do you begin to think of carrots and nothing but carrots? Did you just leave the computer to run to the veggie bin so you could rifle through bags of rotting lettuce to get to that bag of carrots that you clearly remember buying one month ago?

Exactly what I suspected. You did none of those things. Here’s why: it seems like a carrot, unless smothered in butter or brown sugar, turned into a cake and covered in sugary icing or dipped in ranch dressing, is just a “blah” food. Its green, grassy top juts out one side of its body. On its other side, its shabby, unshaven “finger” points at you, daring you to find it attractive. This is what a carrot does. Nowadays, a carrot barely gets a chance to do this. By the time it has reached you, its top has been ripped off, its body cleanly cut and nicely rounded. It is glossy and exists as a bite-size morsel and is shoved into a bag with its brothers and sisters whom it can no longer identify. So that you might get your hands on one of these shiny, little nuggets, manufacturers price them just right around $1.50-$2/bag. Bunk, I say!

I do not say “bunk” to a carrot’s unglamorous nature. I say “bunk” to buying those nifty little bags (unless you are hosting a party–I’m not entirely averse to what is the easiest). I suggest getting back to a basics. I’ve done this recently and have found that the carrot isn’t always the dullard I thought it was. Sure, the nifty bags are enticing, but unless you are a carrot connoisseur, you and I know that you will never make it through the bag. It will sit under those bags of lettuce and rot with the best of them. After weeks of being unused, these mini-carrots appear to be full of water, and what becomes a superslick outer skin of each bite-size carrot looks  gross. Let’s not forget that you may just add on prep time because you’ll have to squeeze the excess water out of the damn things before you throw them into your salad, only to watch them plummet to the bottom and go uneaten.

A few carrots can go a long way and can escape mundaneness if you just doll them up a bit. Here’s what I did last weekend with some carrots that I bought in as natural a state as I could get them in the store (Wegman’s, 7ish in a pack, organic, stalks on, dirty skin on, wrapped in a rubber band, no packaging, just good ol’ carrots (I hope)-$1.29, I believe).

Carrot Salad with Golden Raisins and Almonds

This particular side dish feeds 2-3 people and takes (all prep time) approx. 15 minutes. If you have 2-3 big eaters and consider this a key side dish, I’d suggest doubling the recipe. You should be able to do so a minimal cost.

Ingredients: four medium carrots, approx. one Tablespoon (T) of fresh cilantro, handful of golden raisins, handful of almond slivers, one large lemon and zest, approx. 1/2 to 1 T full of vinegar, mayo (optional)

1. Wash and peel carrots. Cut tips of carrot ends. Throw these things away.

2. With your carrot peeler, peel carrots down to the center of each carrot (without losing a finger or worse). **When I was done with peeling, I just ate what was left of the carrot core.  These peels will be the long, standard peels if you do not have some nifty carrot slicer & curler, so then . . .

3. Roughly line up your gaggle of carrot peels and cut them a couple of times until they are cut into edible sizes. Throw into medium mixing bowl. ***The thicker, standard nature of these peels adds to the texture of the final product. Also, it is my theory that these larger peels better absorb the natural ingredients you’ll add.

4. Finely chop 1/2 to 1 T of cilantro and throw in with carrots. ***Add this to taste.

5. Add a handful of golden raisins and a handful of slivered almonds to the bowl.

6. Chop lemon in 1/2. Squeeze 1/2 over existing salad. Watch for seeds! (I have a lemon press, and it is one of my favorite purchases.) Save 1/2 in a Ziploc bag for some other dish (unless you double the recipe).

7. Zest your lemon right atop the salad.  ***A zester works best for this, though if you do not have one, you can muster up some zest using a cheese grater. Just PLEASE be careful with this latter method.

8. Stir around and taste. Do you need more of something at this point? You might add a little more, but here come the next steps.

9. Add approx. 1/2 T to 1 T of vinegar.

10. Add a small bit of mayo, roughly 1/2 T. ***This step is optional, but I find that it neutralizes the acidity of the lemon and the vinegar. Not adding a lot not only saves calories & fat but also keeps salad fresh, not cream-based or mushy.

11. Stir. Add anything else to taste but a LITTLE at a time. Mmmmm.

Here’s what I served it with:

  • broiled salmon (hi broil for approx 6-7 min., light coating of olive oil, dab of butter, small dashes of salt and pepper)
  • bed of arugula (from bag) drizzled with small amount of balsamic vinaigrette and tossed
  • black beans (from a can–rinse them with water in a strainer if you would like less salt–know it decreases but don’t know by how much)
  • placed black beans atop salmon and draped carrot salad on top of black beans so that it could be in multiple bites

I believe this was a good meal because I am discovering a few things as I go: 1) You can never go wrong with color on your plate. Mix those colors     and    2) I am searching for ingredients in their natural states while avoiding becoming insane about it. I’m not always successful at the latter, but I do have to say that getting back to basics (a feat in a metropolis) is worth it to me. If you take shortcuts, that’s okay, but try something new today and have fun!!